Putting research into practice: Training academics to use Open Data as OER: An experience from Uruguay

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View from the lecture theatre after the storm (by me under CC_BY_NC)

Post written by Javiera Atenas  (@jatenas)

Last week Chiara CiociolaManuel Podetti  and myself – with the help from OD4D and ILDA that  supported us on developing this project- ran a three-day workshop in Montevideo, in which we trained a group of academics, secondary school teachers, librarians, public sector professionals and postgraduate students in using Open Data as Open Educational Resources, and by working in groups they projected a research, explored the data and communicated the results using data journalism techniques.

40 (amazingly motivated) people attended the course during the 3 days despite the weather (torrential rains I brought all the way down from London). With the academic support and expertise of Manuel Podetti and Virginia Rodés from Núcleo REA (Universidad de la República) and with the invluable collaboration of Carolina Veiga and Daniel Carranza from Data Uruguay,  the participants achieved so much, leaving us amazed by setting up the bar so high.

The course design was a team effort, I had my very own ideas, taken mostly from the research Leo Havemann and I have done on Open Data as Open Educational Resources (book + paper), but it was inspired by the methodology developed by A Scuola di Open Coesione, and in the work Chiara Ciociola and Luigi Reggi  do on Open Data for civic engagement. Also, we had lots of support from Silvia Sanjuan to develop the materials in Spanish and got lots of ideas for this course from Nelson Piedra, Annalisa Manca, Francesca de Chiara, Mor Rubistein, Carla Bonina, Tim Coughlan and Fabrizio Scrollini.

To develop the course content, I looked into best practices on Open Data related literacies, and got some great content from Escuela de Datos and Open Knowledge International to introduce the participants to Open Data. But also, got help gathering resources, tutorials, ideas and good examples from Mariel García, Camila Salazar, Hassell Fallas, Juan Manuel Casanueva, Silvana Fumega and many other friends from Abrelatam, to all of whom I’m really thankful.

The course was outlined in three stages [project, explore and narrate] using a critical pedagogy approach to develop – in a short period of time – the skills needed to use open data as teaching and learning resources in formal and informal learning environments, working in multidisciplinary contexts and involving the civil society in the projects, to work with students into solving real life problems towards developing critical thinking and citizenship skills.

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Image by Manuel Podetti

On the first day [project], during the morning, the participants were introduced to the world of Openness (Open Licenses, Open Data and Open Educational Resources) and its basic tools. The afternoon started with the group work, setting up the first challenge: To work in groups and find a real life problem and to project a research question out of it which could be answered by using open data as core research element. So the participants gather up in multidisciplinary teams in which each participant had a specific role (project manager, designer, principal researcher, journalist or analyst) and by the end of the day, they all had a research problem, a research method and potential open data portals and documentation to gather information.

On the second day [explore], during the morning we reviewed tools to create datasets and to visualise data. During the afternoon, the participants started to report into the research problems and – with the help of lots of Mate to keep us warm and awake – presented the initial results of their research. Also, we had an interesting discussion about their views and perceptions on the pedagogical value of their projects, with a focus on the challenges they have faced and what they have achieved so far, looking into ways to embed these new data-led practices for teaching students or for training communities.


Image by Chiara Ciociola

On the third day [narrate] on the morning session, we looked into Data Journalism techniques and examples, we reviewed the news from traditional newspapers and compared them with news from Data Journalism portals, and discussed ways to embed data journalism techniques into teaching and learning to improve students’ communication skills and numeracies. During the afternoon, the groups worked into reporting the outcomes of their research in the READA-UdelaR Blog and finally presented the results of their projects.

As can be seen in the READA blog , the groups chose a diverse range of themes and topics, and also, chose different approaches and methods to analyse the data and to present the outcomes. One of the things that most surprised us, it was the speed in which they became empowered and started trying to access to public data that was not yet open, dealing with FOI requests and contacting the organisations that must have provided with the data.

Every group dealt with a different issue, from access to food to road accidents, they all used different research methodologies and reported and various and diverse ways. All their projects targeted real life problems, and in three days, every group was able to came with a research outcome and proposed solutions, they all presented nice and insightful infographics and participated in a panel where they discussed with the rest of the course the lessons learned, the challenges faced and sought for ideas to embed this practice into the classroom.

Also, it was interesting to see the landscape of opportunities they described as potential pedagogical uses of open data in formal and informal education, such as “provide the students with a different perspective to access information widening their panoramas“; “to empower students as citizens by giving them innovative tools to collect information and data“; “to explain the students the laws that allow them to get the data they need and to use it as an act of civic responsibility” and also, “to work with my colleagues to help students to work in multidisciplinary projects“.

From my side, I did learn a lot, both as a researcher and as a trainer, I loved the experience, the group of collaborators and participants was amazing, we were happily exhausted by the end of it, the motivation was contagious. I know there are some bits to improve in the course, but for being the first experience of this kind, I could not ask for more, I am really grateful for this opportunity and I’m looking forward to run this workshop again, as it was an incredible experience.

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Organisations that supported and or sponsored this project